In the wake of the Mali conflict II.

While the aim of the first article on the Mali question was to explain the outbreak of the conflict, this second part sets the task of analyzing the consequences of the period since the French military intervention and tries to draw the possible scenarios for the future. What are the results of the intervention in military and political sense? What were and are the most significant obstacles of achieving peace and security and how effective were the government and the international actors in overcoming them? Finally, what kind of predictions can be made for the forthcoming period?


1. The defeat of the open rebellion, international troops control the territories

After the January 11 airstrike of the French military three different actors started to take up the fight with the separatists and the Islamists. It was the French military, the African-led International Support Mission in Mali authorized by Security Council resolution 2085 of 20 December 2012 and the Mali government forces of course. They prevented the rebels from occupying the capital and achieved rapid success in liberating strategically significant cities. Within two weeks the allied forces defeated the open rebellion and controlled most of the territory. At this point in mid February the conventional engagements between the belligerents ended and the rebels settled down to start guerilla warfare.


2. Guerilla warfare and terrorism

The terrorist regularly perpetrated suicide bombings, crackdowns and kidnappings and it seemed to be unlikely to completely eliminate the presence of these groups. The reason behind this on the one hand was that the insurgents successfully built up their network within a short time partly with the help of the rural population serving as reserves for them, and on the other hand they managed to cross the borders of the country almost without any hindrances. Regrouped Islamists decided to continue retaliatory attacks against the government and western “crusaders”, which involves the risk of protracted insurgency war. Furthermore serious questions have come up regarding the international military assistance. While Security Council resolution 2100 ordered to set up a UN peacekeeping mission comprised up to 11.200 military personnel, the French president Francois Hollande announced not surprisingly that the number of French troops will be gradually reduced to 1000 by the end of the year. The problem was that the UN soldiers were not authorized to and most of the African lead units and the ill-equipped Mali army cannot carry out effective offensive missions against the Islamists, only the French military could do so.

3. The Tuaregs and their role

The key for the solution were the Tuaregs and their militant organization MNLA. As it has been explained in the first article, the original objective of the rebels was to establish an independent country of the Tuaregs in the North. It was a secular movement, which turned into a religious Islamic rebellion aiming to turn Mali into an Islamist country only after the arrival of the jihadist groups. These groups brought the movement and the Northern part of the country under their sway; introduced Islamic law and committed serious crimes against the population. Under these conditions the MNLA showed an inclination towards coming to an agreement with the central government. It would have been very important for the government to make a deal with the Tuaregs, because with their help the roots of terrorism could have been eliminated. Unfortunately, Bamako was unable or unwilling to utilize this opportunity. Unable because of the executions carried out in revenge against the nomadic people in some cities, and unwilling because they might have hoped that with the help of the international actors they will be able to restore peace and territorial integrity without making any concessions for the Tuaregs, who at this point would have been satisfied with a wide political autonomy. Nevertheless, they signed a peace agreement in June, in the capital of the neighboring country Burkina Faso, which made it possible to hold the presidential elections in territories ruled by the Tuaregs, from which we can stress the significance of Kidal, which is the stronghold of the Tuaregs and the center of MNLA. They also agreed on making discussions on the future status of the Northern part of Mali.

4. Rebuilding the constitutional system

Beside the military developments it was inevitable to rebuild the Malian political system which practically ceased to exist in 2012, after the military coup and during the civil war. There was no democratically elected president, no actual administrative control over the northern part of the country, but far stronger influence of the military on political decision-making. This process has been of great importance also because the $ 3,25 billion aid pledged by different international actors was subjected to the conditions of holding efficient presidential and legislative elections. The second round of the presidential elections was won by Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, former prime minister of the country from 1994 to 2000, with an impressive 77,61 % of the votes. This overwhelming victory secured a strong mandate and was very promising concerning the necessary problems to be solved.  The legislative elections held in December 2013 further strengthened the president’s scope for action, since the alliance of the parties supporting him won 115 of 147 seats in the national assembly. Keita restored civil control in governance (for instance a civilian defence minister was appointed, while General Sanogo, the leader of the military coup was arrested) and security in the southern part of the country, but failed to solve the Tuareg question which has primary importance regarding territorial integrity and also in eliminating the remaining terrorist cells. It is also a serious challenge to resettle as many as possible of the 560.000 citizens displaced since 2012.

5. Current situation and possible scenarios

The Ougadoguo ceasefire between the government and Tuareg organizations has been repeatedly suspended, until the MNLA announced in November 29 that they end it, accusing the counterpart of not respecting its commitments. Notwithstanding that Bamako excluded the possibility of an independent Tuareg state from the beginning, admitted that some kind of decentralization is needed, and it is a rightful claim of the Tuaregs. In contrast some experts argue that Keita simply has been playing for time, hoping that he can stabilize the North with international help. It is imaginable that the Tuaregs have been using the ceasefire accord for the same reason, due to the changed military reality which has been formed after the international intervention. We have to add that full independence is not necessarily in the interest of the northern population, because of the doubts of self-sufficient functioning of the mostly deserted territory. Under its poor economic conditions, the North is heavily reliant on central redistribution. In March 2014 France, which insisted on reducing its number of troops but prolonged the process from the end of the previous year, is reaching the target of 1000 remaining troops, while UN mission MINUSMA is running at around half of its 12,000 capacity. It is hard to imagine how the African lead UN mission and the Malian army themselves will be able to regain control over the entire northern part of the country and sting out the jihadists without reaching an agreement with the Tuaregs. This is difficult because any concessions to the rebels would be extremely unpopular with the southern black population, strongest political supporters of the president, and also because the Tuaregs are divided. Their recently created organization is the Coalition for the People of Azawad (CPA), consisted of the former members of MNLA. The leader of the CPA announced that they are inclined to conduct negotiations with the government. If the situation will continue this way, and the government-Tuareg relations remain unsettled, one possible scenario is that Mali could be a magnet for global jihadism and an enduring frontline against international terrorism.

It is important to highlight that even if the Mali question becomes settled, the problem should be regarded as a regional one. Terrorism has been weakened in the Middle East and in recent time gained position in the Sahel region. According to the latest Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community the whole region has to face with increasing terrorist threat, primarily those countries (Chad, Niger and Mauritania) that supported the January 2013 French-led international military intervention in Mali. Security situation in Nigeria remains unsatisfactory mainly because of Boko Haram, and it is expected to be more critical in the lead up to the 2015 elections. Public order and security practically disappeared from the Central African Republic, in which a new Muslim-Christian conflict broke out, while the severe ethic hostilities between the two Sudans continue. Libya and Somalia are extremely dangerous, because Al-Qaida set up its training camps in these two countries. The former is described by Jean-Yves Le Drian, defence minister of France as a viper’s nest in which jihadists are returning, acquiring weapons and recruiting. In such an environment the international community cannot afford to lose control over Northern Mali, which is a connecting link between the Maghreb and the Sahel. Therefore it is likely that the intensity of international efforts for the stabilization of Mali will endure in the long run.

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Bálint Vidovics

About Bálint Vidovics

My name is Bálint Vidovics, third year law student at the Eötvös Loránd University and member of the Mathias Corvinus Collegium. I have my bachelor’s degree in international studies from the Corvinus University of Budapest. My field of interest is first of all international law and the law of the European Union, but on the blog rather complex foreign political analyses could be expected of me.

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